This Supergirl review contains spoilers.
Supergirl Season 4 Episode 2
Supergirl started off this week’s episode with a great image that encapsulates the show’s ethos: Supergirl grabbing the flagpole before it can hurt anyone and plowing it into the sidewalk between opposing protest groups as they start to violently clash. The image is the kind that would be on the front page of every newspaper on Earth 35, an attractive, human-passing alien hero literally using the American flag to keep the peace outside the White House after the president is revealed to be an alien.
The image also sets the tone for the episode: Supergirl wants to be a unifier, even as her country descends into dangerously cruel chaos. Political themes are front and center here, as indicated by the season premier, but allegory and metaphor are more prominent than straight ahead irl slogans, though there are more of those this week than last. We also get some much-needed progress on Supergirl and Kara’s separate but entwined relationships with Lena Luthor, a stronger sense of James as an editor in chief and character outside of his relationships with Kara and Lena, and our first real glimpse at Brainy as a fallible (and therefore more interesting) character, one who is affected by emotions. Plus: Nia’s first acts of heroism, and one helluva meet-cute where she rescues damsel in distress Brainy.
James represented the case for lack of editorializing well, which makes for a stronger episode than a straw man argument. Bringing in his legal issues with Guardian was a smart move, and makes him look more favorable than if he just claims money/readership. The setup also gave Nia the opportunity to share with him why she feels so passionately about making a statement, and directly linking her struggles as a trans woman to anti-alien sentiment like harassment, discrimination and violence was a smart move that rings true.
I’ve been wondering with some trepidation how Supergirl would handle “the reveal” that Nia is trans. Making too much of it can add to the stigma, but ignoring it is out of step with the lived reality of trans people. A straightforward conversation with someone she trusts (even if that trust was built quickly) was probably the best-case scenario. I hope in the future there’s an opportunity to discuss what a huge leap of faith it was for her to disclose to her boss’s boss, considering it’s still legal in the US to fire someone for being trans.
I appreciate that Supergirl made a point of having characters at both CatCo and the DEO say and do hateful things. It’s easy to code all good characters as respectful and all bad characters as bigots, but we know that the reality is more nuanced than that, and prejudice is largely more insidious than the Earth First hatred Agent Liberty spews – it more often looks like a coffee cup full of wood chips. One issue with that particular move, though, is that it would have carried more weight if we knew the name of that alien race and what they ate before this scene. It’s hard for a slur to have emotional heft if we don’t know it’s a slur until after we hear it.
One sticking point for this season so far is Agent Liberty. Luckily he has now been named and has spoken his ideology at length, but the mask is a misstep. I was a fan of Sam Witwer’s work on Being Human and Battlestar Galactica, and we can hear the passion in his voice, but this mask is killing the performance. Every time we cut back to Liberty’s visage, all the life goes out of what is an otherwise-intense, panic-inducing scene.
J’onn commends Alex’s leadership of the DEO, but what would he say if he saw her interrogation of Otis Graves? I can’t help but think that Alex herself would be upset by her own actions, and I hope to see some evidence of that emotional struggle in future episodes. If the idea is that she is radicalizing in response to the Earth First movement, so be it. Her sister, surrogate father, and some of her closest friends are aliens, so it makes sense. But we need to be let in on that thought process, and it should take a bit more time and at least some reflection on the part of the otherwise-level-headed Director Danvers. Failing that, there’s security footage and someone internally should have a word with her, like Winn or J’onn would if they still worked there.
This was the perfect time to crack into Brainy’s steely, logic-based exterior. While have a walking, talking deus ex machina is convenient, it’s hard to feel too much warmth for him, in spite of Jess Rath’s best efforts. It’s even harder when he’s filming Jeremy Jordan’s cardigan. Seeing genuine emotion on his face – real fear, shock, and sadness at Massimo and later confusion, frustration and terror when he couldn’t help Supergirl – open him up to the audience in a meaningful way. Here’s hoping he opens up more to Alex and Nia as the season goes on.
A few observations:
Lena not knowing Supergirl’s identity is getting old, but I had fun watching Kara trying to save her on the sly.
J’onn J’ozz with the Michelle Obama shoutout (“When they go low, we go high.”)
I agree with Brainy, we humans do find calm in the consumption of food.
“If you truly want to find me, you will.” Boss move from Nia!
“When innocent people are being attacked, it’s not about balance. It’s about justice.”
I love Mercy versus Lena: two wicked smart women throwing everything they’ve got at each other.
“I know people fear what they do not know. But Massimo knew me.” Oh Brainy.
I heard echoes of MLK’s I have a dream speech in Supergirl’s address.
Did anyone else notice they tested the new president to see if he’s an alien before he took the oath? “Fool me once…” I suppose…
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!